Why Are We Telling Each Other to Breathe?

The first time I remember telling someone to breathe I was following the teenage son of a friend being wheeled into the emergency room several hundred miles away from his family.

I was on staff at a camp and Wesley was playing 3 on 3 basketball. The competition was physical between the older teens, all of them 6′ and more. Wes and an opponent went up for the ball when the other guy fell down on top of Wesley’s foot. His 6′ 3 frame crumpled to the ground.

The hospital was in a nearby town. It was an agonizing ride for Wesley. He was placed on a cart to wheel him into the ER. He bent over his foot holding it in silent agony. I realized in his pain he was holding his breath and I said firmly, yet as calmly as I could, “Breathe, Wesley”.

Today we see that word on memes, mugs and T-shirts. We have it on our phones. We choose it as our word for the year. Breathe

My cousin gave me this necklace as a reminder

My cousin and I have been texting it, writing it and saying it to each other for a few years now.

Why do we have to tell each other to do something we’re already doing? We are all breathing or we wouldn’t be alive.

Just like I noticed Wesley holding his breath when he was suffering we hold our breaths in a figurative sense.

Grief cripples us and our breath becomes shallow. We are trying to hold back the pain.

A hurricane demolishes a community and the effects continue long after the rest of the country has forgotten. Our breathing becomes angry gasps.

Divorce, job loss, miscarriage, empty nest…..they take our breath away. We gulp for air to stay alive but we aren’t breathing in real life-giving breath.

And we say to ourselves and to one another, “breathe“.

To do this we have to loosen our grip around the pain.

Wesley’s pain didn’t go away until he got medical attention. Some of us might need to start with appropriate medication to help us loosen our grip on what’s holding us.

When Beki tells me to breathe I know the she means slow down. Be in the here and now. Stop thinking about the what ifs and what was and what should be. Stop thinking about the unknowns and start with slowing down my mind. When I do that my breath follows and they are in rhythm together. 

The thing I’ve learned is I have to repeat this day after day. My mind is ready to race away with anxiety and worry. When it became overwhelming I sought professional help. While that has brought some relief, it doesn’t release me from needing to create practices that will help my mind and breath find a healthy rhythm.

I often find that healthy pace in the creative process. I read, journal, spend time with people who are healthy and not afraid to remind me to breathe when they see me gasping. I have faith in a God who loves me and restores my breath.

As my son has reminded me, let people help you. It’s how God has always worked in my life – through the hearts and hands of others.

Breathe, friends. Breath in deeply and exhale peace.

Compassion Fatigue in Ministry

How do you tell them you’re tired? That your smiles aren’t as real as they use to be? That, many days, you have to make yourself show up.

This isn’t suppose to happen. Not to us. Not to people who are the ones who hug you when you’ve come back after your last relapse. Not to people who are grace-givers and hope-peddlers. 

This isn’t suppose to happen.

But it does. It has and I don’t know what to do with my tired heart and pretend smile.

In the early days I held a little distance between these men with their addictions and lives I knew nothing about. I watched and listened and let God soften my words and make wise my heart. I walked carefully into this new ministry, a foreign world on home soil. 

I let their stories pierce my heart and I let the tears fall when one didn’t return home because we want this place that houses 100 men to be a home for them. We want this to be the home that loves and cares about their comings and goings, a home where they can know love and grace and mercy and that love and mercy don’t exclude rules for communal living.

God was using this community of residents and staff to show me that grace was more than a prayer said before a meal. Yes, I’d grown up in the church and sang Amazing Grace but this, this acceptance of the guy who was holding a sign on the side of the road yesterday, this was grace.

This was compassion and mercy and love and they will steal your heart and leave you empty and tired with no more tears to cry for the next one. 

We pull away, we take vacation, we have creative endeavors, we do all of the things that should keep us healthy and our souls fit for caring one more day. But now, my tears are from feeling numb to it all.

I want to feel like I did a dozen years ago, when it was fresh and I was learning about the disease of addiction and finding my place in this story of recovery and relapse and grace. Now, it seems like the same song on repeat. 

Caring too much can hurt. When caregivers focus on others without practicing self-care, destructive behaviors can surface. Apathy, isolation, bottled up emotions and substance abuse head a long list of symptoms associated with the secondary traumatic stress disorder now labeled: Compassion Fatigue

Where is the renewal of my soul? 

One of the perks about our ministry is the competent counselors on staff.  What could be better than a licensed mental health counselor, who I also consider a friend, just down the hall from my office? So I told her. I told her I’d lost it. I’d lost the passion and energy and that I had to make myself show up.

She looks me in the eye, listening to my words as well as my heart. Her voice softens and she asks me, again, ‘What about you? You’re a nurturer but are you taking care of you? What are you doing that’s for you?‘ 

You know I am, Marian. You know I’m taking a photography class and that I write. You know I do those things for me.

She pressed on, ‘But who are your friends? Your girlfriends? The ones you do things with, not your husband, yourfriends?

Ah, yes. The ones who live in other states. Those friends? The story gets complicated and our talk grows quiet as she knows I’ll walk out her door and nothing will change.

We are wired to tend to the needs of others while ignoring the weakening pulse in our heart. The bible is full of verses about putting others first and serving the least and how the last will be first in the Kingdom. These verses of works walk hand in hand with the faith on which they are built. One without the other is dead so we carry on until we slowly die on the inside.

There is that one verse. The one I like reading in the Message, the one that makes me think of music and the ocean and the graceful rhythms of both.

It’s as if Eugene Peterson was reading my mind when he wrote this paraphrase:

“Are you tired? Worn out ? Burned out on religion?” 

Well, yes. Yes, I am.

“Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” – Matthew 11:28-30

Sometimes keeping company with Jesus looks like a phone call with a girlfriend, a heart to heart with my sister or laughing at an eleven-year old’s joke. These are life breaths to suck in deeply, slowly and remember that I’m refreshed and walking in the rhythms of grace-land. 

At the end of the day

Is this summer really busier than most or were slower summers just seen through hazy-want-it-to-be-so memories?

Summers when our kids were young seemed to stretch on with long days in the pool and road trip vacations out west. Then they started going to sleep-away-camps and working all summer at camp and summers got hotter and hurried to fit it all in.

Children add the pauses in life. Appreciated only with some perspective.

the granddaughter

the granddaughter’s recent visit

It has been a hurried July. Issues at work that can’t be resolved with simple decisions have stretched on, tethering us closer to home. The times we’ve enjoyed away haven’t been allowed to linger as we quickly put the photos aside to take up the next thing on the list.

The collision happened this week as it has before. The expected when working with people and disappointment more tragic when working with those getting their footing in recovery.

We throw some people right into the fire it seems. You get some traction in this recovery thing. You’re making all the right moves: sponsor, meetings, giving back, yep, you’re a stand-up guy. You’re hired.

It has to happen sometime this going back into the world, beyond our seemingly safe walls with counselors down the hall from you and recovery language spoken all around. Even here the addiction demon rages and pulls some down again.

80's night



It was that kind of week. We’d been gone two days and back in time to put the finishing touches on our big 80’s night. Smack in the middle of summer where we knew we needed to laugh off the steam of the day. Back to a turmoil we didn’t know was brewing. Back to relapse that had us scrambling for replacements and action and grace.

I was home most of the day, with the granddaughter at the pool. Oblivious to anything amiss until the phone call not intended to inform me of the chaos others had been swept in. A simple question about the audio for the night and the simple statement, it’s been a busy day. “Good busy or bad busy?“, I asked. The new employee on the other end hesitated before he said bad busy followed by, “I don’t want to be the first to tell you.”

“Better get use to it“, I said and so it went from there.

The granddaughter still in the pool wanting me to come back in, safe from our grown-up world of disease and heartbreak.

Even the counselors get into the spirit of the night

Even the counselors get into the spirit of the night







God knew. He knew when this would happen and that it would happen on the day we set aside to have a party. He knew at the end of confusion, uncertainty and frustration we would need to laugh. And we did.

A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance. Ecclesiastes 3:4

There are seldom more events that make us realize life goes on than relapse. One falls but 98 others must be held up, encouraged, shown a new way, a new life.

So we had our 80’s night with more of the younger ones embracing the costumes of a time before they were born. We laughed and cheered and booed when the judges didn’t score Pat high enough in karaoke. We danced with the counselors and wore silly things not in character for us. And in the process, some wounds were soothed.

At the end of the day, the fallen are cared for, taken to shelter and told they are loved.

At the end of the day grace. 

Five-Minute Friday {dream}

Linking up over at Kate Motaung place with a group of word-hungry bloggers for this 5-minute frenzy of free writing. Everyone is welcome to this party! Today’s prompt is dream.

Deerfield beach




His aren’t your ordinary, run of the mill, dreams. No, his are Indiana Jones adventures or James Bond-style feats. If he wakes in the middle of a particularly exciting dream, he can go back to sleep and continue it, changing the course if he decides.

I guess it should come as no surprise, that even in dreams, we are not alike.

Nope, not even close.


More times than not, my dreams aren’t remembered. I’d say I don’t dream much but science tells us we all dream, every night. But we don’t always remember our dream. That’s me.

My dreams are ordinary dreams. Most often I’m working out issues of the day. But there have been a few….

I’m a common sense, matter-of-fact, practical kind of girl. The kind who takes things as they are and tries not to make too much of things. Especially dreams. (I have been known to over think things. Just a time or two 😉

There have been a few times where I believed God used dreams to comfort me, to give me peace. And one very important time, the dream was to prepare us.

Maybe it’s the dreams we have in the light of day that are the most important. These are the dreams that become goals and plans and action. The dreams that turn wishes into work. And sometimes, this knowledge is the very thing that keeps them dreams.



Five-Minute Friday {gift}

Linking up with the gracious Kate for the weekly free-writing word prompt that has turned into a community. Stop by and join the fun. Ready? Go.

Father’s Day, Christmas, birthday, the question and answer always the same.

Me: What do you want?

Him: socks, underwear, golf balls

shhhh....this is his father's day gift

shhhh….this is his father’s day gift (he’s my biggest art encourager/fan)

Oh, but sometimes he throws in that response that makes us all groan: “I’ll think about it.”

You know what that means. It’s the day before and he still has no answer.

I am not a good gift giver. Simple as that.

I have expectations of being thoughtful and creative. The thing the other person doesn’t even know they want but I’ve found it. Their face beams with sheer delight.

Oh, you too?

I have a theory we are all better gift-givers than we know. Because the best gifts aren’t the ones wrapped up in a tidy bow.

family laughing

family christmas  family christmas

silly family photo

Heather and Me

The best gifts are smiles that really come in one-size-fits-all. Even the person in front of you in the 10-items-or-less-checkout-line putting their 15th item on the conveyor belt. 🙂

The gift of laughter is never outgrown but is contagious and just the sort you want to spread.

The gift of time never spoils.

Presence? Ah, the best gift of all. To be all there in the moment. This comes with a warning:

Caution: may include tears, hugs, hilarity, and an all-over sense of love.

The only way I can relate

Five years ago I was 10 pounds lighter.

Ten years ago I ran 3 miles a day, 5 days a week and clocked under 8 min. a mile on an average day.

Four years ago I walked regularly and ran some.

Chucks blue

When my second child was 6 months old, two friends and I joined Weight Watchers. It was the first time in my life I’d had excess weight when I wasn’t pregnant. I was 23 and at least 20 of the 40 pounds I’d gained during pregnancy weren’t coming off.

All three of us reached our goal weights. We followed the eating recommendations by Weight Watchers that included measuring our food. Portion control. We attended weekly meetings where the instructor encouraged us and helped people who had reached a plateau or struggling to meet their goal.

When we met our goals, we stopped attending the meetings. The guidelines were simple enough to continue on our own. I stayed within comfortable weight limits for the next 14 years or so.

Then I stopped doing what I’d been doing. Oh, I had reasons. Good reasons. We were moving. Again. In the span of one year my best friend died, my father died, I turned 40 and our oldest graduated high school. Surely, that’s enough to plunge anyone into carb loading and sugar highs.

It was a gradual slide into relapse. The age-old home remedy of self-medicating with food.

Pulling out that favorite pair of jeans offers a moment of clarity. Determination sets in. Until guests come and they want to go to that ice cream place you took them to last year. The one that only has double sized everything.

Tomorrow comes and you spend it wishing things were as they were and wishing that wishes were all you needed to do to get things back under control. And then your mind starts having this crazy argument about control.

Big deal, right? It’s only weight and it’s only 10 pounds and most people don’t think you need to lose even one pound so what’s the big deal?

It’s not of course. Not a big deal. I won’t lose my job, my husband and children won’t leave or disown me. My friends still trust me.



It’s a very simplistic view of the more serious state addicts and alcoholics find themselves in. Only their labels are ALL CAPS, bold type.

I’ve never met an addict of any kind (drugs, food, work, etc.) who didn’t want to change. Who didn’t want the wishing to make it go away. Who didn’t want to pray it away or find the magic cure at the baptismal or walking through our doors. But it takes more.

They carry the label and the scars of a bad record preventing job opportunities, of a poor work history, of being a loser and not trustworthy. Things far greater than being overweight.

Addiction is a disease. A compulsion stronger than one can control on their own. It leaves wreckage that some will never be able to see beyond. For us, it’s an opening for grace and where there is grace there is hope.


Some people think work takes God out of it. Last I checked, God likes work. He likes people who work, blesses them and promises to share the load, even carry the bulk of it. Believe me, loving people who aren’t like you takes work too. Living a life Christ calls us to takes work. Every day.

It’s a spiritual awakening that brings the willingness to change. Willingness is where God meets us.

“Discipline, not desire, determines our destination.” Andy Stanley


One day.

At a time.


GOD, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as the pathway to peace. Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it. Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will, that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.


Reinhold Neibuhr-1926



Five-Minute Friday {rise}

Deerfield beach

There are some days, or weeks, when our job of caring, the job we’re called to do, when that is, well, more like a job. It demands more time and attention and drains everything within.

When you’ve run out of tissue to wipe the noses or tears, when your arms have tried to hug away disappointments, when you’ve had emails from daughters asking if you’ve heard from their father because he’s dropped out of sight, again, that kind of caring can overwhelm and  leave you feeling empty and parched.

For those times, I hope you’ll find your stretch of sand, figurative or literal, and stretch out your towel to watch the sun rise higher in the sky. To feel it’s warmth embrace on your skin and know that is the God who loves you more than deserved and loves without question.

Yeah, it’s been that week and there will be more like it. But I have this place in the sun (and Son) where all can be made fresh.

Why would you ever complain, O Jacob, (O Debby)
or, whine, Israel, saying,
“God has lost track of me.
He doesn’t care what happens to me”?
Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening?
God doesn’t come and go. God lasts.
He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine.
He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath.
And he knows everything, inside and out.
He energizes those who get tired,
gives fresh strength to dropouts.
For even young people tire and drop out,
young folk in their prime stumble and fall.
But those who wait upon God get fresh strength.
They spread their wings and soar like eagles,
They run and don’t get tired,
they walk and don’t lag behind. Isaiah 40:27-31 the Message

Linking up with Kate Motaung for another writing frenzy called Five-Minute Friday. 

Five-Minute Friday {meet}

arms of grace quote

It seems we always meet at the worst times. The times when anger wells up inside or fear of the unknown stifles my being and turns me into a complaining mess. Yes, she has a knack for showing up at just those times.

Too often, I ignore her presence or can’t hear her over my selfishness but she is there, waiting with the patience that only comes from above.

What once was hurt
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stings
Because Grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things – Grace, U2

The unknown tomorrow is known by a loving God and through our fears and anger and hurt, his grace will meet us.

Five-Minute Friday {real}

The reality of this week had been staring me down. I wasn’t going to give in as I often do. Give in to whining and lamenting (which is a better sounding word than complaining). Real is what we do in this family. Hard truth? Give it to me because we can handle the truth, Col. Jessup.

We work in a world where reality is too real at times. Where we are face to face daily with men in addiction who cannot hide any longer. “We’re only as sick as our secrets” is one of the recovery sayings.

But this weeks reality was closer to home, or at least heart, as we were going to be with my brother who was diagnosed with stage 2 prostate cancer and was having surgery. We would face that together with family and friends and we would feel the realness of cancer hitting our family.

kk spring break collage


We had the granddaughter in tow as it was her spring break week. Instead of the beach we were in a car 4 hours there and again back, sleeping in a new place to her but with familiar faces, familiar laughter and loud voice and dogs!

Who knew it was the imagination she brought with her that would be the perfect balm to this kind of real. Her 7-year old smiles as she delighted in being allowed to bounce on our bed. The chorus us Five Little Monkeys that hasn’t been heard in a very long time and the pretend play she gathered us in. Joy. Real joy.

Fake is often polite and without emotion. It is safe. Real, however, is often heavy and awkward and lacking in manners.

The Velveteen Rabbit ask the Skin Horse about being real:

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

And there it is. The best part of real: truth.

Linking up with Kate Motaung for the weekly Five-Minute Friday roundup. Hop over and join the fun. It’s always real.


It’s a huge, busy, skipping from place to place week around here, one that could be written in a colossal, run-on sentence. It’s the granddaughter’s spring break and we’re blessed to have her with us though she may not feel it’s a break as we shuttle her with us on the to and fro circuit.

It’s spring, which means it looks exactly the same outside here as it did in winter. And fall, and summer: brilliant blue skies, palm trees swaying to a swift breeze and the humidity starting to crawl its way up.


I don’t do these kinds of weeks well. The kind where we sleep in one place for two nights and then another for two nights and so on. Especially with a 7-year old when I know how important routine is. She is doing better than me.

We caught our breaths yesterday before we leave today. A trip we’d rather skip as we’re going to wait beside my sister-in-law, no doubt laugh the tension we’re holding inside because that’s how we cope. My brother was recently diagnosed with stage 2 prostate cancer and is having surgery tomorrow (Tuesday). The news is optimistic and we are holding to that but inside, yeah, my heart is beating a little harder and my breathing not quite as deep.

When news  of his diagnosis came it brought with it all kinds of unrealized feelings of our little family. Things that had never surfaced but make so much sense. The feeling that it’s been he and I alone ever since our parents divorce. Almost like I’ve felt us orphaned in an odd way because we’ve always been loved by our parents but I realized how the physical separation made me feel alone. And in charge of this guy who drove me crazy when we were kids but is my best friend now.

With this week and next staring me down, not much is certain, as if anything ever is but God. That seems to be where he wants me these days. Knowing that whatever else is swirling about, in the thick of uncertainty about cancer, moving, relapse, and our next breath, He is certain. His unending love, his compassion and mercy, his grace that pours over my doubt and fears is certain. Always. Forever.